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July 18, 2013

Nick Saban


KEVIN TRAINOR:  We're now joined by the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, Nick Saban.
COACH SABAN:  Thank you very much.  It's great to see everyone.  Hard to believe this is my 12th SEC Media Days, seventh at Alabama.  I hope y'all had a wonderful summer.
For us, for me personally, it's perfect.  I had a great vacation, then I get the opportunity to come here and see 1200 of my very closest friends all at the same time (smiling).  So we appreciate that.
I would be a little remiss I think not to mention all those people who have been responsible to help us have the kind of organization, the kind of program, from a team standpoint, at the University of Alabama.  I always think it starts at the top with our administration.
Dr.Witt has done a fabulous job with our institution, the growth and quality of our institution, his support of the athletic program.
Judy Bonner, our president, has certainly continued that tradition with us.
Mal Moore, who had tremendous vision for what could be accomplished at the University of Alabama, set the table for us many years before we ever got there.
Now Bill Battle providing very strong leadership in our athletic department with all of the people that work so hard to help us be successful.
And the coaches and players who have made a commitment to a standard to be able to accomplish some of the things that we've been able to accomplish in the past few years, as well as our fans who have tremendous passion for the University of Alabama and our program.  They certainly make it very special to be the head coach at the University of Alabama.
There's only one way I think that we would ever like to try to have a program in college football, and that's to create an atmosphere and environment where our players are going to have a better opportunity to be successful in life because they were involved in the program.
I think personal development programs, how they need mental conditions for success, behavioral issues, all these things are things we try to invest in so our players represent themselves, their families, our institution in a first‑class way.
Our players are there to develop a career off the field, number one, which means we want to have a great academic support program so they have an opportunity to graduate.  We have a pretty positive history of success when it comes to academics at the University of Alabama in terms of graduate rate, APR, all those types of things.
We want to help develop football players that can actually represent our institution and be a source of pride in the way that they play, they compete, and represent all the people who are a part of the tradition and have been a part of the tradition of the University of Alabama in the past.  We're all very much committed to helping our players be successful in the future.
It's a challenge each year to reinvent your team.  You always lose good players.  You always lose about 25% of your team in college.  So it creates new opportunities for other players who may not have the same experience.  It also creates new roles for players who have been a part of the team, but now maybe have to assume a little different role.
How each and every one of these players sort of accepts those roles and those challenges, and the attitude that they have toward focusing on the things that they need to do to make a significant contribution to the team in all those roles, has a lot to do with how that team's going to develop.
We're obviously proud of what our team was able to accomplish last year and the year before, but we also learned that there's five or six plays that sort of can define your season and make a difference in the season.
I could go back to last season and say the two‑minute drive against LSU, not scoring on fourth‑and‑two against Texas A&M, Georgia blocking the field goal in the SEC Championship game and getting up 21‑10.  I mean, fundamentally we didn't execute in some of those circumstances, some of them we did, and we benefitted from it.
Two or three plays can affect the outcome of a game.  So your players' commitment to a standard of excellence to be prepared, to have the passion toward the commitment and the standard, to be prepared, to give the effort, play with the kind of toughness, have the discipline, execute every play in the game like it has a history of its own is very, very important because you never know when those plays are coming up.  So you really have to play every play.
That's what we're trying to get our players to buy into so they're going to put themselves in a position to play those plays in what will most certainly be a competitive season and a challenging season against some great football teams.
I know, I read, and I hear how you all make predictions in what's going to happen in the season.  Because of these things that I talk about, it seems almost a little bit crazy to try to predict what's going to happen in the season.
I'd also like to make a note here that in the last 21 seasons, you as the media have only picked the right team four times to win the SEC.  Now, if I was 4‑17 as a coach, I would be back in West Virginia pumping my gas at my daddy's gas station, which we don't really want to go there (smiling).
But I just think it's crazy to speculate because of the fact that each year you have a different type of team.  This year, you know, our team probably has a little better skilled players on offense.  We have a very experienced quarterback who has done a wonderful job and has developed and improved every year, has continued to do that, has been a leader on our team in A.J. McCarron.
We have questions about the development of the offensive line, but that seems to go very well.  We have some very good skill players at wide receiver who have been very productive.  So we may have a little different type of team.
I think it's important that we continue to progress and improve on defense because there were times last year when we didn't play as well as what I think we need to play against some very good offensive teams.  Can do the same thing on special teams.
So this team has been a work in progress.  We started out with maybe some question marks in how we approach the off‑season.  We were a little sloppy in spring practice, had a sloppy spring game, turned the ball over a lot, didn't play with the kind of discipline to execute that I'd like for our team to play.
But that was a good learning opportunity for our players, you know, to see that when you don't do things exactly right, when you don't prepare exactly right, things don't always work out exactly right.  So it's important to do the right thing the right way the right time all the time.
To have the leadership on your team, to set a good example for others, is very important to being successful.  Be someone that somebody else wants to emulate.  Be willing to provide the guidance for someone who doesn't have the same experience.  Inspire someone who maybe doesn't have the same attitude.
Those things are critical to having the kind of team chemistry that you need to be successful, to stay focused on the vision of what you want to accomplish, to get everybody to be responsible to do their job on a consistent basis, and to put the kind of work and invest your time in it that it takes to bring all those things together and the commitment that every individual has to make to make that team what it is.
So with that, that's the challenge that we have for this season.  Obviously we start out with a very difficult opening schedule.  Virginia Tech has been a 10‑win team almost every year.  That's going to be a very challenging game for us to open with in Atlanta.
And then to go play the team that beat us last year, Texas A&M, on the road in the second game of the season, obviously going to be very challenging.  Not to overlook the rest of the competition in our division, as well as in our league.
That's what we're sort of focusing on, what we're looking forward to.  Certainly appreciate the challenges and have a tremendous amount of respect for the competition in the SEC.
KEVIN TRAINOR:  We'll take questions for Coach Saban.

Q.  Ever since you've come to Alabama you've always had that particular veteran leadership at the linebacker spot dating all the way back from Darren Mustin in your first year.  With C.J. Mosley coming back for his senior year, how big is that for the implementation of that leadership that you just spoke of at the linebacker spot?
COACH SABAN:  Well, I think that we have been extremely fortunate.  C.J. Mosley is a fantastic player, has made a tremendous amount of plays, had a very good spring, we're hopeful that he'll have an outstanding season.  But that is one of the concerns, is who will step up on the defensive side of the field and provide the leadership.
If the guy is a good player, that certainly puts him in a position where his teammates respect him so he can be a leader.  But just because you're a good player doesn't mean that you're necessarily going to be a good leader.
Now, C.J. has certainly tried to take the bull by the horns and be a good leader for our team.  It's very critical how do the players respond and come together on defense with the leadership.

Q.  Other than a rule change, how can you get better at defending no‑huddle offenses?
COACH SABAN:  I think preparation is really an important part of that.  When people play fast, I think it takes defensive players out of their rhythm a little bit.  I think we obviously need to practice that way more often.
I think you have to adjust your system so there's not a lot of terminology, that you have quick calls that can get in the game quickly, players can get lined up, get focused on what they need to do to execute.
I think that last year just about everybody went no‑huddle against us.  I think we actually got better as the year went on in defending it.  But I think it's one of the goals in the off‑season that we need to practice and spend more time with our players so they have a better chance to adapt to it.

Q.  What is your view on a rule change for a protective window against up‑tempo?  How much can a guy like Tyler Siskey help you with the nuances of an offensive division rival at Ole Miss?
COACH SABAN:  Well, I think what we try to do this year, the rules are clearly defined.  We know exactly what to expect in terms of what we have to play against.  We are focused on trying to prepare our team to play against that.
I don't know that there will ever be any rule changes that affect the up‑tempo teams.
There's only two questions that I've ever had.  You've heard me talk about this before, I'm not going to speak on it now.  I don't have the answer to these questions.  Should we allow football to be a continuous game?  Is that the way the game was designed to play?
And the second part of it is, and I don't have the answer to this, is an increased number of plays that players play in the game, is there any safety issues in that?  They play like 64 plays a game in the NFL.  We play over 80 in college.  The up‑tempo teams play even more than that.  The cumulative effect of that is a player is playing 25, 30 more plays a game.  Is there any safety issues in that?
I don't know the answers.  I think these are the questions that need to be asked to know whether there needs to be any rules that affect the tempo of the game.

Q.  Can a guy like Tyler help you understand the nuances?
COACH SABAN:  Not really.  I mean, we played against it enough.  Tyler is very good at what he does.  He's in the recruiting part of our organization.  I'm sure he'd be a fine coach if he ever chose and had an opportunity to do that.  But that's not the reason that we hired him.
I think we understand what the other team's doing.  It's pretty much trying to get our players to be prepared so that they can play well against it.

Q.  You've won four national titles now.  A lot of people are starting to compare you with Bear Bryant.  What does that mean to you?
COACH SABAN:  I don't think I have any reason that anybody should do that.  I think Bear Bryant is probably the greatest coach in college football in terms of what he accomplished, what his legacy is.
I think the biggest thing that impacts me is how many peoples' lives he affected in a positive way, players that played for him, because they all come back and say how he affected their life.  They don't come back and say, We won a championship in '78, '79, '61, whenever it was.  They come back and say how he affected their lives.
There's a lot of Bear Bryant stories that I've learned a lot from, that have made me a better person.  I certainly appreciate that, have a tremendous amount of respect for what he accomplished.
There's no way that we have done anything close to what he's done in terms of his consistency over time, how he changed what he did to impact the times.  They threw the ball and won.  They ran the wishbone and won.  I mean, he changed tremendously to do what he needed to do to be successful.  I don't think that it would be fair that anyone really be compared to what he was able to accomplish, the way he did it, and how he impacted other people.

Q.  I understand all of your recruiting class is enrolled in summer school except for one guy.  Do you have any new information about the status of Robert Foster?
COACH SABAN:  Well, you know, we feel like Robert was, by the clearinghouse, the eligibility committee, did not accept one of his classes.  They gave him an opportunity to repeat the class.  That's what he's in the process of doing.  If he repeats the class successfully, he'll be there in the fall.

Q.  I know you're not in charge of scheduling, but do you at least understand where Les Miles is coming from when he talks about equal paths to the championship in regard to scheduling on the eastside?
COACH SABAN:  Yeah, but there can never be an equal path to the championship.  Unless everybody plays everybody, that's the only equal path to championship.
Everybody doesn't play everybody in the NFL.  You rotate your schedule.  We have to rotate the schedule.  The things that I think are important in scheduling is, A, I've been over this before, every player plays every team in the SEC in his career.  That means you must play at least two teams on the other side.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for the traditions that our fans enjoy, which our Tennessee game is a big game for our fans.
So the only way to do that is play nine games.  So if somebody else doesn't have that...
I understand where Les Miles is coming from.  I coached at LSU.  We played Florida every year, too.  So if anybody understands it, I understand it.  You understand?  All right (smiling).
They may not have that same tradition.  My question is, is do other coaches understand our circumstance?  Do they understand Auburn/Georgia circumstance?  Do they understand the other teams in our league that do have rivalries that are cherished by the fans?

Q.  Your team has played in a number of season‑opening kickoff games like this year against Virginia Tech.  Moving forward with the new college football playoff, how important do you see these types of games being?
COACH SABAN:  I think that these types of games make our scheduling a little more 'convenient' is not the right word.  But it's very difficult for us to schedule home‑and‑home games with other conferences and other teams.  I think these neutral‑site games from a business standpoint work out.  It's great for exposure for your program to play in different places in the country, especially against a good opponent.
I do think that with strengths of schedule being an important part of the new formula for the playoff in terms of who gets selected to play in the game, strength of schedule is going to be very, very important.
So to now all of a sudden try to play 10 quality opponents, we've always tried to play nine, now I'm sort of thinking we need to play 10, without playing one of those games, it would be very difficult for us to do that.  That's one of the other reasons that I support having nine teams in the conference, nine conference games, because it's difficult to schedule out‑of‑conference games.
We've always enjoyed that.  It's always been a great experience for our players to play in Dallas, Atlanta, different places.  Hopefully we'll be able to continue that in the future.

Q.  Talk a little bit about earlier in your career, some of those coaches who you coached under, Don James, Earle Bruce, how did they impact you?  Have you carried stuff through your career that you learned from some of those coaches?
COACH SABAN:  Absolutely.  Everything that we do, that I know, I've been fortunate to have great mentors and had the opportunity to learn from them.  Even my high school coach had a significant impact on me as a person.  Don James, especially, who was very successful that I played for in college and started out as a graduate assistant, probably had the biggest influence on me even getting into coaching, which is something that I was not geared up to do.  He sort of talked me into being a graduate assistant, and I liked it.
But Don was very well‑organized, had great programs for personal development, emphasized all the right things academically.  A lot of the same things we do now.  The same kind of recruiting organization we did then.  You know, every coach that I coached with has had a real impact in how to do things and maybe sometimes how not to do things.
But George Perles, who was a great coach at Michigan State, also at the Pittsburgh Steelers with Chuck Noll, really taught me a lot about developing as a coach.  I'm talking about technique of being a good defensive coordinator and a secondary coach, and was great at how he handled people and treated people, was a great recruiter.  I learned a lot from him.
Bill Belichick is the other person who, from an organizational standpoint in the NFL in terms of how he runs the program, how he defines the expectation of every part of every person in the organization, probably had as much of an impact as anyone.
So I've been very fortunate to have some really good mentors along the way.

Q.  With the game against LSU, that's basically become if not the marquee game during the season, why do you feel as if you guys have played these type of close, dramatic games?  Same level of recruiting?  Coaches knowing each other?
COACH SABAN:  Well, I just think LSU has a great program.  Les has done a fantastic job there.  They've got a really good coaching staff.  They do a really good job of developing their players.  There's a lot of good players in Louisiana.  They have really good talent on their team that they've done a really good job of getting those guys to play at a high level.
It's a very challenging game for us each and every year.  They're a physical team.  They're a lot like us in terms of style.  So, you know, it's like two heavyweights going toe‑to‑toe.  Our expectation is always going to be that that's going to be one of the most difficult games that we have in our season.

Q.  In light of situations such as Aaron Hernandez's situation, how much responsibility does a head coach have in terms of discipline?  How do you make the decision when you have to dismiss a guy like you had to do with four players earlier this year?
COACH SABAN:  I think we have a responsibility to create the best atmosphere for the players to have a chance to be successful in, which means that we have to educate our players and the consequences of good and bad behavior, try and create an atmosphere and environment where we're going to get them to have the kind of behaviors that is going to enhance their chances of being successful.  I think we have a tremendous responsibility to that.
I think personal development is something that we've always sort of been in the forefront on in terms of human behavior and how we can get people to make choices and decisions that are going to enhance their chances of being successful.  So that's something that we've always tried to do a good job in.
We have personal development programs, attitude toward mental conditioning for success.  We have peer intervention programs for behavior issues, whether it's drug, alcohol, agents, gambling, how to treat the opposite sex, macho man stuff, getting in fights.  We have leadership seminars.  We have public relations seminars.  Doing everything we can to help our players create value.
But the players have to understand that the consequences of bad behavior is going to be something that affects them as much as anyone.  So they have to be responsible to that to some degree.
I mean, any of us that have had adolescents that we've raised, I've had a couple, I know most of you probably have had that experience as well, you know, it's a tremendous responsibility to try to get young people to have the right guidance and inspire them to do the right things.  That's something that we've tried to pride ourselves in doing.
I don't think that we're always going to bat a thousand percent when it comes to that.  You could be the best professor in the world, be the best teacher, but someone still may cheat on the test.  You may provide every single bit of guidance to get the correct behavior, and not, with your own children at times.
So we can be the moral compass for our young people, but we cannot always drive the ship.  We always cannot be there to drive the ship.  So we're going to try to provide the best moral experience for our players in terms of their development that we possibly can.
You know, I think you have to have a standard of behavior that they understand is the expectation in your organization, and I think they have to understand the consequences if they don't meet that.  I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
In the meantime we're going to do everything we can to help them develop that behavior.  Human behavior is not an exact science, but we're going to do everything we can to try to help every player have success in his life because he makes good choices and decisions in the program.

Q.  You mentioned earlier with the impact that Coach Bryant had with his players beyond what they were able to do while he was coaching them.  How much interaction do you have with your former players, specifically Rolando McClain since he's back on campus?
COACH SABAN:  A lot.  Specifically with Ro, a lot.  I talked a lot to him when he was making the decisions that he made to get back in school, and to come back and work out, as a player who may someday decide he wants to play when he has his mind in the right, you know, sort of to play football.
So quite a bit, you know.  We pride ourselves on the fact that our players come back a lot.  A lot have been successful.  We even have players that have been unsuccessful and suspended and come back and make an impact on our players when they realize that what they did is not the way to go, and they can affect somebody else in a positive way.
I think it's very important.  I can't speak for the players themselves, but I always enjoy when the players come back, look for guidance.  Most of the players come back for the spring game, A‑Day, I think that's always good.
I think most of the guys know that have played for me know if they ever need anything, I'll always be there for them.  There's a lot of former players that played for me at LSU that still call and stay in touch.

Q.  You have Chattanooga on your schedule this year.  With strength of schedule becoming a component in the future, will you continue to play FCS schools at Alabama?
COACH SABAN:  If we can get 10 quality opponents on our schedule‑‑ look, I've said this before, nobody wants to hear this, but I was in the NFL for eight years where every team you played was in the NFL.  So if somebody wants to take the leadership and say, Okay, here are the five conferences that are the top conferences, and we're going to play all our games amongst those people, I'd be fine with that.  But until somebody says that, it's going to be impossible to schedule all your games with those teams.
So we will have to continue to play some of those games.
Now, do I think that's what the fans want to see?  Probably not.  It's a great experience for those players that are going to have the opportunity to play at Alabama this year.  It's a great experience for them.  I'm not trying to take that away from them.
But I think in the world that we live in, it is impossible to schedule more than 10 games with real quality opponents.  It's very difficult.  It's very difficult from a financial business standpoint because everybody wants to play more home games for business reasons, which means financial reasons.  The more games you play with quality opponents, you're going to have to play home and home.  So you're going to have less home games.
There's a lot of issues involved in all that.  It's not all about just what the coach wants to do.  It's about the business of college football.
So I don't feel responsible to have to make that decision, so I don't really feel comfortable answering that question.
KEVIN TRAINOR:  Coach, thank you for your time.
COACH SABAN:  Thank you.
I would like to say that we really appreciate what you do as media to create the interest that you create in our game, the self‑gratification and recognition you give our players in what you do, recognizing their positive performance, we really do appreciate that.  So thank you very much.

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